State Spotlight: Addressing Food Insecurity in Colorado

Paul Sherman
March 21, 2022

Ending hunger in the United States requires policy solutions at every level of government, from Congress to city councils and everything in between. MAZON is invested in empowering communities to create lasting change in all of these arenas. As MAZON’s Outreach Manager, I partner with Jewish communities across the country to deliver meaningful educational programming around food insecurity. In so doing, I have witnessed the transformation of many of these communities into effective anti-hunger advocates. One of the most common themes I have noticed throughout these endeavors is an interest in localizing MAZON’s advocacy work; many ask us, “how does this advocacy affect our community?” or “how can we use our voices to end hunger here at home?” 

In 2019, MAZON’s Board of Directors chose Colorado as a pilot state for an intensive, state-focused advocacy campaign aimed at advancing anti-hunger legislation and reducing food insecurity locally and across the United States. To kick off these efforts, in early 2020 MAZON sponsored Hunger Free Colorado and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s budget proposal, SNAP for Student Success, and subsequently sponsored and helped lead the associated lobby day. MAZON was the first national organization to sign on as a sponsor of this legislation. As a result of of this collective effort, the state budget added $400,000 to fund SNAP outreach. 

Last August, after relocating from Washington, DC to Denver, Colorado, I began to tie these strategic state-based advocacy goals and MAZON’s previously established Colorado partnerships into MAZON’s educational curriculum and broader community engagement efforts. In coordination with MAZON’s Organizer, Lauren Banister, we recently joined a coalition spearheaded by our partners at Hunger Free Colorado that focuses on passing legislation for the provision of healthy meals in Colorado schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program. The coalition is off to a strong start; in early March, more than 40 individuals – students, community leaders, educators, and advocates alike – testified before the Senate Education Committee in support of SB22-087 (Healthy School Meals for All). On March 17, the Education Committee amended and passed the bill, which will now move to the Appropriations Committee. Lauren and I are currently working to engage Colorado’s Jewish community around these efforts in order to bring a strong, faith-oriented voice to the table. 

As with our advocacy work across the country, support from the local Jewish community is essential for advancing the anti-hunger movement in Colorado. As the only Jewish organization dedicated exclusively to eradicating hunger in the United States, MAZON brings a unique perspective to our collaborations with other anti-hunger groups. I was inspired by the diversity of backgrounds represented in recent SB22-087 testimony, and it compelled me to mobilize Colorado Jews – from Denver, to Colorado Springs, to the Eastern Plains – to engage in grassroots Tikkun Olam by addressing food insecurity in their communities. 

The first step I took in this effort was to partner with local Jewish organizations dedicated to social justice. In November, I led MAZON’s signature This is Hunger program for Repair the World Colorado’s Serve the Moment Cohort. Since then, I have remained in close contact with Repair the World Colorado’s Program Manager, and we are preparing to host a Food Justice Seder for Passover next month – centering MAZON’s Hunger Seder Haggadah and Fifth Question – with a number of other local organizations. By mobilizing the broader Jewish community through advocacy and educational programming, I am confident that we, as one faith-based voice, will enhance the local anti-hunger movement. 

In her book, Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community, Rabbi Jill Jacobs writes, “‘Our places’ may change over the course of our lifetime, as we move from city to city, explore the world, and develop relationships with new people and locales. But in the course of a multiyear commitment to a place, we have a chance to develop an intimate connection to that place, and perhaps even to have an impact there.” This framework guides me as I localize MAZON’s advocacy work in Colorado and expand on the relationships that began long before I relocated. I am inspired by MAZON’s unique – and distinctly Jewish – position within the anti-hunger movement; now, as I ground myself in Colorado, I am eager to continue the work of mobilizing the local Jewish community to create a world in which no one – in Colorado or anywhere – faces food insecurity.